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Faith nurtured in Adelaide blossoms in Nashville

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When Sr Elena Marie Piteo OP attended World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008 it was the first time she had seen a young Sister in a habit and she was “struck by her joy”.

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Returning to Adelaide where she was studying psychology, the former Mary MacKillop student thought little about a religious vocation until she attended an Encountering Christ retreat with the Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia in 2011.

Although the order is based in Nashville, Tennessee, the community has had a presence in Sydney since it was invited to help with the preparations for WYD 2008. Subsequently the invitation was extended for the Sisters to become involved in teaching and university chaplaincy in the Sydney Archdiocese and they recently established a house in Melbourne.

“I was always very much involved in my parish who helped me in developing my faith and my relationship with God,” said Sr Elena Marie, who grew up in the Hectorville parish.

“Joining an order was far from my mind, but I was filled with so much joy and peace when I visited with the Sisters…I loved the community life, the apostolate and the joy that flows from devotion to the Eucharist.”

Sr Elena Marie said she had a “very strong devotion” to Mary MacKillop (whose middle name was Helen) and it had influenced her religious name. “Mary MacKillop teaches us how to rest in the generosity and peace of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, having trust in His loving invitation.”

After two years of initial formation in the motherhouse in Nashville, she took her first vows in 2013 and after obtaining her teaching degree spent a year working in a high school in the US.

On July 24 she was one of 10 young women who made final profession as a Dominican Sister of St Cecilia Congregation and she is currently teaching at the University of Notre Dame in Sydney.

Sr Elena Marie, 33, told The Southern Cross her parents Ted and Selina had visited the motherhouse three times, including for the Mass for the Rite of Perpetual Religious Profession celebrated in the Cathedral of the Incarnation, Nashville.

“I never thought my dad would leave the country,” she laughed.

“All I can say is that the Lord is very good when He gives you a vocation, He really works with your family as well.

“It was difficult initially for my family but over time I have been truly blessed; my parents have been transformed and are so happy because they can see how happy I am.

Sr Elena Marie said her family, in particular her ‘nonna’, was a big influence on her faith.

“She is a woman of deep faith,” she said. “I have had very good support from my family and the community at Hectorville parish – I am sure I’m here because of their prayers.”

Her advice to other young people discerning a vocation was “do not be afraid”.

“The Lord’s call can be overwhelming and scary but there is great peace and joy that comes from knowing that you are loved beyond all and knowing that He delights in us and calls us. Don’t be afraid because it is a gift to be His spouse and the blessings are far beyond what you can ever imagine.”

While Adelaide would always be home, Sr Elena Marie said she would be happy to go “wherever I am called to serve”.

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